Farmers are at the heart of the greatest challenges of the 21e century: climate change, food sovereignty, scarcity of natural resources, renewable energies…
“Agriculture alone corresponds to 12 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals defined by the United Nations, recalls Florian Breton, founder and CEO of Miimosa, the first financing platform dedicated to agricultural transition and food. Its ambition: to accelerate the creation or development of positive impact projects for farmers or entrepreneurs. A year later, he co-founded the Digital Farm, an association that “promotes innovation and digital technology for efficient, sustainable and civic agriculture”. Faced with the demands to come, the young shoots of AgriTech are participating more than ever in this agricultural and food transition.
Tech and the agricultural world: a “culture” in the making
Connected product to reduce the use of synthetic inputs in the fields, self-supporting robot to optimize production and reduce the arduous work of market gardeners, solution to measure the carbon stored in the soil but also the development of food alternatives more sustainable… From farm to fork, disruptive technologies abound, relying on big data, robotization, bio-control and bio-pesticides in particular.
“AgriTech has 250 start-ups, which is few given the stakes, deplores Florian Breton. France has fallen behind but momentum has been launched. And funding is on the rise. » A sign of the times, Hectar, a vast agricultural campus created in Ile-de-France by businessman Xavier Niel, has as its mission to promote regenerative agriculture and sustainable food, and to support since the start of the year, a dozen startups. The objective: to develop 80 startups in two years in the fields of AgriTech (AI, robotics, equipment), FoodTech, regenerative agriculture and Future Farming. An accelerator co-designed with HEC Paris and which relies on a multitude of partners (Naturalia, Parfums Christian Dior, BNPP Act for impact, etc.)
The places are also organized around a pilot farm and a training site for “agricultural entrepreneurs”. “The Impact dimension is omnipresent there”, assures Francis Nappez, director of Hectar. First on the side of the incubator where “solution-oriented innovations” are acclaimed. “The incubated startups all go through workshops to better identify their environmental but also social impact, continues the director of Hectar. We are supported in this work in particular by the association MakeSense. »
Sustainability of agricultural practices… and of the profession
“The agricultural sector is going through a multiple transitionunderlines Florian Breton in charge of the Impact Division within the Digital Farm. It is economic and ecological but also social. » Because it’s not just the soil that needs to be regenerated… Generations of farmers too. “We are going to lose half of our farmers in the next ten years, says Francis Nappez. The renewal of the profession is a key issue. How can we talk about food sovereignty if the farmers’ pool is exhausted? Today, nearly 50% of installation projects are carried out by people who do not come from the farming community. »
Profiles driven by a virtuous vision of their work “but that is not enough to create businesses that last, specifies the director of Hectar. However, it is essential to sustain these facilities. We offer training that complements existing courses to support them in this entrepreneurial aspect. It’s not just about finance but about ambition and vision for their farming business. »
For Florian Breton, there is no doubt that “tomorrow’s farmers will be multi-faceted entrepreneurs producing renewable energy, processing, trading, storing carbon, producing biodiversity and getting paid for it all. »
Solutions with social value
The sustainability of farms also depends on working conditions. “New farmers are ready to make sacrifices, but not to work 7 days a week without family life, testifies Francis Nappez. Here too, AgriTech is taking up the subject. Like the startup Aptimizz, which offers tools to measure and optimize the working time of farmers, for example. ” But there are still few of them on these aspects of social valuehe believes. Models need to be rethought, invented to better take into account the hardship, the mental workload of farmers, believes Francis Nappez.
Through its pilot farm, Hectar is working on organizational models “designed to be reproducible, so that the lines move to areas other than Ile-de-France. » Lines that must also move throughout the chain, especially on the food side. “If the farmer produces in a virtuous way but the industrial tools of transformation do not follow, the production will have no valueemphasizes Francis Nappez. But the food industry is a stakeholder in the reflections carried out. With Danone for example, we have imagined a possible dairy according to an equation which stipulates that the breeder can produce in a virtuous way while respecting his working time and working on the transformable percentage to produce at different times and not be dependent on a single buyer. »
Bertrand Varliogue, professor of strategy and corporate governance at EM Lyon, goes even further and proposes opening up the mission-based company system to the agricultural world. “The objective of nourishing and restorative agriculture requires institutional and legal developments in order to facilitate and accelerate its deployment: the status of agricultural enterprise “with a mission” can in this respect constitute a powerful tool”, he explains in a recent article. Because he can “contribute to redefining professional identities by conveying a new imagination and a desirable future for the agricultural profession” while meeting the dual challenge of “Feeding Humans and Repairing the Earth System”. In short, it is a matter of considering agriculture not as a problem, but as a solution.
AgriTech: one billion euros invested in 2021
According to the FrenchAgriTech report, France is in the Top 6 worldwide in terms of investments in AgriTech with more than 650 million euros invested in 2020 and nearly one billion euros (a first!) in 2021 50 fundraisers of more than one million euros have been carried out every year, from 2018 to 2021. Like the startup Jungle and its vertical farm model (42 million euros in March 2021) or even the Bretons of Gaïago who design solutions against the degradation of agricultural soils (13 million euros in July 2021).
Despite record figures, AgriTech represents only 6% of the funds raised by French startups over the past six years.